LONDON — Eden Hazard propelled Chelsea closer to its first English Premier League title in five years on Saturday by clinching a 1-0 victory over Manchester United that established a 10-point lead.
It hasn't been a convincing title run-in — with Chelsea winning seven of its last 10 league games but only by a single goal — but Jose Mourinho's side has a commanding cushion with six games to go.
Hazard is also likely to be collecting the country's top individual honors this season. The winger cemented his player-of-the-year credentials with another influential display at Stamford Bridge — and the only goal.
Hazard met Oscar's back-heeled flick-on in the 38th minute and slotted the ball through David de Gea's legs at the goalkeeper's near post.
An injury-depleted United was on top for much of the second half but could find no way past Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as a six-game winning streak ended.
"They had the better possession," Chelsea captain John Terry said. "We have not been playing as well as we can of late ... we were in our best form early on in the season and just before Christmas."
Louis van Gaal's United remains third and well-placed to capture one of the four Champions League qualification places.
"I see that we are improving every week," said Van Gaal, who had enjoyed wins over Liverpool and Manchester City in the last month. "When you can play in Chelsea like this, as the dominant team, then I'm very happy with that, but I'm very disappointed. That's the ambivalence in my feelings."
De Gea started celebrating inside five minutes of the game — wrongly believing Wayne Rooney scored when the captain had in fact curled the ball into the side-netting from Luke Shaw's cutback.
Paddy McNair, one of three injury-enforced changes from the United side that beat City in last weekend's Manchester derby, also came close with a shot that deflected off Terry.
As the game opened up, Chelsea began to push forward, and scored from its first shot on target.
United striker Radamel Falcao, making his first start since February, was forced off the ball by Terry on the halfway line — Van Gaal later claimed it was a foul — and Cesc Fabregas released the ball to Oscar.
After holding up the ball, Oscar backheeled into the path of Hazard, who netted his 18th goal of the season.
Falcao was presented with a chance to level just before halftime, but he couldn't get on the end of Ashley Young's flick-on
Chelsea was in front despite missing injured strikers Diego Costa, its top scorer, and Loic Remy, giving Didier Drogba a second consecutive start up front.
The 37-year-old Ivorian has gone more than four months without a goal and came close only once on Saturday.
After meeting Nemanja Matic's long ball, Drogba's shot deflected off Smalling and looped over De Gea. It was going wide as Hazard raced to the far post but could only hit the goal frame from a tight angle.
It could have proved costly, but McNair saw a shot parried by Courtois, Rooney's strike was deflected wide, and Falcao squandered an opening.
Left back Shaw, who was putting in a strong performance on the left flank in his first appearance since early March, played in Falcao. But after sweeping past Kurt Zouma, Falcao went for goal and hit the outside of the post rather than crossing to Marouane Fellaini, who was in space across the penalty area.
"We had a big heart, we fight, and we were very focused on what we wanted," Mourinho said. "The only thing we couldn't do was kill the game by scoring a second goal."
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.